Ancient ship rises from 9/11 ashes

01:55, Jul 16 2010
9/11 statue
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2008: A statue depicting a New York City police officer comforting a young girl in the 9/11 attacks is seen during the seventh anniversary of the disaster in Broomfield, Colorado, 2008.
9/11 victim's family
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2007: Relatives of 9/11 victims make their way along the ramp to a reflecting pool at Ground Zero at the World Trade Centre site, New York, September 11, 2007.
Rumsfeld at Pennsyvania site
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2006: US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, pauses after laying a wreath at the 9/11 Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 2006.
9/11 remembrance in Baghdad
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2004: A fireman takes part in a commemoration of the victims of the 9/11 attacks at Camp Victory in Baghdad, September 11, 2004. The ceremony was held in one of the former palaces of the Iraqi former President Saddam Hussein.
9/11 remembrance ceremony
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2006: A woman wears a ribbon and pins in honour of her son who was killed during the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, during a ground breaking ceremony for a memorial in Washington, 2006. The memorial commemorates the 184 lives lost when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.
9/11 report
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2004: The 9/11 Commission Report was unveiled in 2004. The commission investigating the September 11 attacks reported 'deep institutional failings' and missed opportunities by both the Bush and Clinton administrations to thwart the hijackings.
9/11 memorial
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2003: Nancy Dwyer, whose sister Lucy Fishman died in the World Trade Centre attacks, joins a demonstration in 2003, against development of commercial structures within the area of the site and calling for a memorial built from bedrock of the World Trade Centre towers.
9/11 remembered at ground zero
REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2002: Thousands of mourners of victims of the attack on the World Trade Centre converged at 'ground zero'. One by one, the names of 2801 victims of the attacks echoed over the devastated site.
World Trade Centre impacts
WORLD TRADE CENTRE ATTACKS 2001: Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 approaches and hits the World Trade Centre's south tower, bursting into flames and raining a hail of debris on Manhattan. A gaping hole in the north tower can be seen following a similar attack earlier in the day.
Pentagon
PENTAGON PLANE: The Pentagon building in Washington suffered major damage after a hijacked commercial airliner, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into it.
World Trade Centre
SEARCH FOR SURVIVORS: Firefighters comb the remains of the World Trade Centre after the collapse.
World Trade Centre
TOWERS COLLAPSE: Smoke and debris fill the air after one of the World Trade Centre towers in New York City collapses.
Twin towers rescue
TWIN TOWERS: Rescue workers remove a man from the World Trade Centre tower in New York City. Both towers were hit by planes crashing into the building. Victims from the attack, many suffering from extensive burns - began arriving at hospitals about an hour after the jets slammed into the buildings.
World Trade Centre
HELP NEEDED: A New York City fireman calls for more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble of the World Trade Centre.
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REMEMBERING 9/11 IN 2009: The "Tribute in Lights" illuminates the sky over lower Manhattan on the eighth anniversary of the attacks.
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AFTERMATH: Smoke from the remains of New York's World Trade Center shrouds lower Manhattan on September 12, 2001, the day after the deadly attacks.

The ship was buried as junk two centuries ago - landfill to expand a bustling little island of commerce called Manhattan.

When it re-emerged this week, surrounded by skyscrapers, it was an instant treasure that popped up from the mud near ground zero.

A 9.7m piece of the vessel was found in soil 6m under street level, amid noisy bulldozers excavating a parking garage for the future World Trade Centre.

Near the site of so many grim finds - September 11 victims' remains, twisted steel - this discovery was as unexpected as it was thrilling.

Historians say the ship, believed to date to the 1700s, was defunct by the time it was used around 1810 to extend the shores of lower Manhattan.

"A ship is the summit of what you might find under the World Trade Centre - it's exciting!" said Molly McDonald, an archaeologist who first spotted two pieces of hewn, curved timber - part of the frame of the ship - peeking out of the muddy soil at dawn on Tuesday.

By Thursday, she and three colleagues had dug up the hull from the pit where a section of the new trade centre is being built.

A steep, hanging ladder trembled with each step down into chaotic mounds of dirt, dwarfed all around by Manhattan skyscrapers rising into the July sun.

People sank in the mud as they walked and grasped pieces of the historic wood for support - touching the centuries-old ship that may once have sailed the Caribbean, according to marine historian Norman Brower, who examined it Thursday.

"It smells like low tide, this muck," said McDonald as she stood on the weathered planks, sniffing the dank odor that hovered over them in the hot summer morning.

The ship harbours many mysteries still to be solved: "Where was it built? How was it used? Why was it sunk?"

McDonald and archaeologist A. Michael Pappalardo made the discovery on Tuesday at about 6.15am, just as they started their shift observing construction in the pit at the southern edge of ground zero.

The two work for AKRF, a New York environmental consulting firm hired to document artefacts discovered at the trade centre site.

"We noticed two curved timbers that a backhoe had dislocated," McDonald said.

Joined by two more archaeologists, they started digging with shovels, "and we quickly found the rib of a vessel and continued to clear it away and expose the hull over the last two days."

Brower, the historian, works in Mystic, Connecticut - renowned for its historic vessels. He told the archaeologists that it was an oceangoing vessel that might have sailed the Caribbean, as evidenced by 18th Century marine organisms that had bored tiny tunnels in the timber.

The vessel's age will be estimated after the two pieces that first popped up are tested in a laboratory through dendrochronology - the science of using tree rings to determine dates and chronological order. Also unknown is what kind of wood was used to build the ship.

A 45kg iron anchor was found a few yards from the hull, possibly from the old vessel.

There were also traces of human life nearby - "pieces of shoes all over," said McDonald, who had no idea how they got there.

The ship likely got there because of the effort to extend lower Manhattan into the Hudson River in the 1700s and 1800s using landfill.

Cribbing usually consisted of logs joined together - much like a log cabin - but a derelict ship was occasionally used.

The ship discovered Tuesday was weighted down and sunk to the bottom of the river, as support for new city piers in a part of Manhattan tied to global commerce and trade.

A similar find emerged a walk away in 1982, when archaeologists found an 18th Century cargo ship on Water Street.

The remains of the latest discovery will be removed in the coming days, but the timber is so delicate it's unclear how much of it will remain intact.

The surrounding water acted as a preservant for the wood for centuries, McDonald said, but the remains began to deteriorate immediately upon contact with oxygen.

"We're mostly clearing it by hand because it's kind of fragile," McDonald said, meaning shovels are used. Construction equipment could come in handy later in the process.

On Thursday, archaeologists were quickly sketching, measuring and photographing the ship remnants to help them analyse the find later - the two pieces of timber that signaled the discovery were taken away immediately. It was not clear from the 9.7m piece how long the whole ship might have been.

Another fascinating detail might emerge as work progresses - coins traditionally placed under a vessel's keel block as a symbol of good fortune and safe travels.

But the team is already feeling pretty lucky. "I kept thinking of how closely it came to being destroyed," Pappalardo said.

Somehow, the workers operating the bulldozers missed the bulk of the ship, catching only the two timbers as they excavated ramps that will connect to an underground parking garage at the rebuilt trade centre.

Within the fenced-off, 16-acre site in downtown Manhattan, steel for a planned 541m skyscraper has risen 24 storeys.

The memorial to victims of the September 11 attacks, a multibillion-dollar transit hub and a second office tower are under construction. More office towers and a performing arts centre are also part of the original plan.

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PICTURE OF LOVE: Photographs of some of those that died in the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001 are shown on a wall inside the Tribute WTC visitors centre.
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TWIN TRIBUTE: A tribute in lights shines on New York's skyline to mark the 5th anniversary of 9/11. US president George W Bush has vowed America will find Osama bin Laden.
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SEPT 11, 2001: An American flag flies near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center.
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SEP 11, 2001: New York Firefighter John Cleary wipes the soot from his face while taking a break from rescue work at the World Trade Center.
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SEPT 11, 2001: Wearing an American flag, Alan of New York reads flyers with information on World Trade Center missing persons.
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SEPT 11, 2001: Firefighters rest on the sidewalk across from the World Trade Center collapse site.
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SEPT 11, 2001: Fire fighters and rescue workers unfurl a large US flag near the damaged area of the Pentagon Building at the US Military Headquarters outside of Washington.
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SEPT 11, 2001: A man walks in the street near the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
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SEPT 11, 2001: Firemen work near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center.
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SEP 11, 2001: A New York City firefighter returns from battling building blazes near Vessey and Greenwich Streets after the World Trade Center collapse.
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SEPT 11, 2001: Rescue workers remove a man from the World Trade Center tower.
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SEPT 11, 2001: Rescue workers start to move one of their own, Father Mychal Judge, from the World Trade Center tower in New York.
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SEPT 11, 2001: A firefighter walks amid rubble near the base of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York.
Workers walk near the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
SEPT 11, 2001: Workers walk near the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
Smoke from the remains of New York's World Trade Center shrouds lower Manhattan as the Statue of Liberty stands in the foreground and a lone seagull flies by in this image taken across New York Harbour.
SEPT 11, 2001: Smoke from the remains of New York's World Trade Center shrouds lower Manhattan as the Statue of Liberty stands in the foreground and a lone seagull flies by in this image taken across New York Harbour.
Firemen work near the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
SEPT 11, 2001: Firemen work near the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
A dust-covered bronze statue of a man with his briefcase rests in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers.
SEPT 11, 2001: A dust-covered bronze statue of a man with his briefcase rests in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers.
The New York skyline is filled with dust after the hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center towers.
SEP 11, 2001: The New York skyline is filled with dust after the hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center towers.
People look out of the burning North tower of the World Trade Center. Shortly after this photo was taken this tower fell.
SEPT 11, 2001: People look out of the burning North tower of the World Trade Center. Shortly after this photo was taken this tower fell.
edestrians react to the collapse of New York's World Trade Center.
SEPT 11, 2001: Pedestrians react to the collapse of New York's World Trade Center.
Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 flies toward the World Trade Center twin towers shortly before crashes into the south tower, left, as the north tower burns following an earlier attack.
SEPT 11, 2001: Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 flies toward the World Trade Center twin towers shortly before crashes into the south tower, left, as the north tower burns following an earlier attack.
The World Trade Center burns after being hit by the first plane, with the Brooklyn bridge in the foreground.
SEPT 11, 2001: The World Trade Center burns after being hit by the first plane, with the Brooklyn bridge in the foreground.
United Airlines Flight 175 collides into the south tower of the World Trade Centre in New York as smoke billows from the north tower on September 11, 2001.
United Airlines Flight 175 collides into the south tower of the World Trade Centre in New York as smoke billows from the north tower on September 11, 2001.
Planned World Trade Center memorial
ZOOM IN: An image of the the planned World Trade Center memorial, which can be explored in 3-D.
Planned World Trade Center memorial
EXPLORE: An image of the the planned World Trade Center memorial, which can explored in 3-D through Google Earth.
Planned World Trade Center memorial
IN MEMORY: An image of the the planned World Trade Center memorial.
Planned World Trade Center memorial
FROM THE ASHES: An image of the the planned World Trade Center memorial.
Planned World Trade Center memorial
SYMBOL OF HOPE: An image of the the planned World Trade Center memorial.
World Trade Centre ship
BENEATH THE WRECKAGE: A 200-year-old ship has been found beneath the site of New York's ground zero.

AP